First World Country

Updated on March 8, 2024
Article byPrakhar Gajendrakar
Edited byShreeya Jain
Reviewed byDheeraj Vaidya, CFA, FRM

What Is A First World Country?

First world country refers to a developed nation both politically and economically. Such countries have high living standards, better education, robust infrastructure, and developed economies with a democratic government. The primary aim of these countries is to achieve economic prosperity and provide citizens with a high-quality life.

First World Country

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The term was first established in the 1950s during the cold war to categorize nations that align with the US and other Western countries against the former Soviet Union, which collapsed in 1991. Today the countries that are classified as First World typically have well-functioning institutions, high political stability, and robust legal frameworks. “First world country” has shifted to describe economically advanced and developed nations primarily.

Key Takeaways

  • First-world countries are those nations that have strong infrastructure, developed economies, well-established democracies, and are industrialized.
  • The term described countries united with the US against the Soviet Union from the early 1950s to 1991.
  • With changing times, it has received severe criticism for dividing nations based on racial discrimination and downright offensive and biased perspectives.
  • Technological advancements, political stability, and social welfare systems typically characterize these countries.

First World Country Explained

A first-world country refers to a highly developed and economically advanced nation with a high standard of living, vital infrastructure, and well-established institutions. In simple terms, they refer to countries with a high political, economic, and democratic form of government and a wealthy economy. The first-world country term was first used during the cold war when the U.S. was in alliance with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Countries opposing the Warsaw Pact were considered second-world, while those without a clear alignment were referred to as third-world countries. These countries have changed drastically since the former Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Thus, categorizing these nations into first, second, and third worlds was historically based on Cold War alignments. But the meaning has shifted to focus on economic and social development in contemporary usage.

Basically, the benefits of first-world countries include:

  • High standard of living
  • Economic opportunities
  • Strong social welfare system

The life of these nations’ citizens is poles apart from people living in second and third-world countries. Hence, the problems of such wealthy nations are also absolutely different from poor and struggling nations. These nations are rich and influence the global market in a significant way. These nations’ recession, crisis, or war scenarios drastically impact the world economy. While first-world countries generally enjoy high levels of development, they still face various challenges and problems. Here are a few common first-world country problems:

  • Income inequality
  • Social disparities
  • Environmental issues
  • Urbanization and infrastructure strains

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The characteristics of first-world countries are –

  • The country is a capitalist economy with a strong influence on the West, primarily the United States.
  • People live and maintain a high standard of living with a growth mindset.
  • Countries have well-established banking and financial system with robust infrastructure.
  • These nations provide various welfare benefits, develop unemployment programs, offer free education, and establish pension schemes for their citizens. They demonstrate support and genuine concern for sustainability to their people.
  • Low or negligible unemployment rate and high literacy rate.
  • People have a well-established per capita income contributing to a higher gross domestic product (GDP) of the country.

Membership Criteria

For a nation to be these countries, there is no particular cut-off, but there are different indexes and indicators that they should score higher to be in the membership criteria –

  • There is an HDI measure which stands for Human Development Index, which comprises three dimensions – education, the standard of living, and healthy life.
  • The per capita income of the ordinary citizen must be higher. It varies from country to country, and generally, these nations have higher GDPs depicting better living standards.
  • Such countries have a higher literacy rate. At the same time, many government-funded programs and free education reforms are available. A typical measure is that a person above 15 must be able to write and read satisfactorily.
  • Moreover, the life expectancy of people in the term of years is higher, and they are expected to live longer. The higher the life expectancy is, the better it reflects the country’s robust healthcare system.


Let us understand the concept better with the help of an example.

Example #1

Suppose Michelle was born in the US. From early childhood, she has been accustomed to and aware of high education. She participated in debates and enrolled in one of the prestigious American universities.

Michelle always saw her country grow and become more prosperous with time. There were always better healthcare facilities and better services, utilities, and resources offered to her by the government. Therefore, in times of recession, she never had to worry about food or shelter because the government ran many welfare programs. Such countries often bounce back. Therefore, the demand economy again rises. Eventually, Michelle started working in a multinational corporation and climbed the corporate ladder.

She has always been a part of a free society and industrialized market, and the US never deprived her of any resources. The whole vital infrastructure of the US, the behavior of the community, and the living standard of her colleagues and friends, including the mindset of the people, reflect Michelle’s life.

Example #2

According to an article published in early 2023, there were interesting views of people who left their third-world countries and came to live in first-world countries. They shared their opinions on how surprised they were about what they experienced, from cleanliness to fashion and having the right to criticize the government and authorities openly.

The people were in awe of law and order and being able to use public services freely without any hesitation. Though some cons are also present, people were surprised at the feeling of safety and protectiveness, including the utilities, shared resources, and services they came across.

First World Country vs Third World Country

  • They have a strong economy, better literacy rate, strong infrastructure, and a democratic system. On the other hand, third-world countries are underdeveloped nations with no or fewer resources and poor living standards.
  • The advantages and problems of people living in these countries are different and opposite to third world country citizens.
  • First-world countries are typically capitalist. In contrast, third-world countries are socialist and communist.
  • The governments of these nations offer better services, resources, and utilities to their citizens, which are rarely observed in the case of third-world countries.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. Who invented first-world countries?

The United Nations gave the term in the late 1940s, but modern times have no official definition and need to be considered outdated. Moreover, it is typically used to describe developed countries with high living standards and solid capitalistic economies.

2. Which countries are not first-world countries?

Second and third-world countries can be described as developing or underdeveloped countries. These countries face many challenges in their growth and development—for example – China, Russia, Romania, Czech Republic. At the same time, the third-world countries are Brazil, Mexico, India, Argentina, Cambodia, etc.

3. Is a first-world country the same as a developed country?

“First-world country” and “developed country” are often used interchangeably. Both refer to nations with high economic development, advanced infrastructure, and high living standards. However, it’s important to note that these terms are not precisely defined and can vary in usage.

This has been a guide to What is First World Country. We compare it with third-world country, & explain its examples, characteristics, & membership criteria. You can learn more about it from the following articles –

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